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Avoid the Health Complications of Diabetes

Living with diabetes is something more than 37 million Americans do every day. As a chronic condition without a cure – and the seventh leading cause of death in the United States – managing diabetes and keeping it under control are critical.

“The overwhelming majority of people who have diabetes, 90 to 95 percent, have type 2 diabetes, which is when insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar, does not work as well as it should,” said Steven Cathcart, DO, of Samaritan Endocrinology. “This causes your body to have a difficult time keeping your blood sugar at normal levels.”

When your blood sugars are uncontrolled and persistently high, it can lead to health complications. Health complications can develop gradually and cause permanent damage to your body. They can even be life-threatening if they go untreated.

Common Complications of Diabetes

  • Heart disease.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Vision loss.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Infections.
  • Foot problems.
  • Cognitive problems.
  • Gum disease.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis.

“Eye problems, such as diabetic retinopathy, are one of the more common complications I see,” said Cathcart. “Early warning signs include blurriness, dark areas in your vision, having a hard time perceiving colors and floaters. If not treated, it can lead to blindness.”

Nerve damage in the feet is also one of the more common complications of diabetes and is typically accompanied by pain or numbness in the feet. It can cause poor blood flow, changes to the shape of your feet, and more serious infections could require amputation.

While nerve damage most often affects the feet and legs it can also impact digestion, blood vessels, and heart.

“One of the more serious complications is diabetic ketoacidosis, which is when the lack of insulin and high blood sugars lead to a build-up of ketones,” said Cathcart. “Symptoms can come on very quickly and typically include being very thirsty, feeling the need to urinate often, having stomach pain and feeling extremely tired. This is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.”

In addition to potential complications, having diabetes puts you at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and narrowing of blood vessels.

“The best way to minimize your risk of any of these health complications and control blood sugar levels is to adopt a good diabetes care plan that can help you manage your diabetes day-to-day,” said Cathcart.

Strategies to Manage Diabetes Successfully

  • Eating a healthy diet of lean protein and non-starchy vegetables. Stay away from sugar, salt, saturated fats, and processed carbohydrates.
  • Monitoring your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitoring.
  • Keeping your blood pressure low by not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating healthy.
  • Taking your medication as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Monitoring your feet, skin and eyes to catch any problems early.
  • Seeing your healthcare provider at least twice a year.
  • Recognizing the signs of high / low blood sugar and know what to do if your sugar levels are off.
  • Being physically active at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Know the signs of diabetes health complications and seek medical care when needed.

“Diabetes is a very serious disease, said Cathcart. “Being vigilant about your diabetes care and leading a healthy lifestyle is a constant commitment but are powerful tools in reducing the risk of serious health complications.”

Ready to control your diabetes? Visit the American Diabetes Association for more information and resources.

Read inspiring stories about patients who successfully manage their diabetes.